Feel free to check out our rankings from earlier in the week! As always, be sure to comment below what you like or don't like.
#50 - 41
#40 - 31
#30 - 21
#10 Lawrence Kipkoech / Campbell / Rs. Junior
For the past two to three years, Campbell has gained more and more attention thanks to the rise of Kipkoech (and others). Kipkoech has been one of the gutsiest runners in the NCAA with an assertive racing style that forces his opponents to earn their wins.
We first saw Kipkoech emerge as a NCAA contender in 2015 where he put together some solid performances like placing 2nd at Panorama Farms and 18th at Pre-Nats. He would go on to struggle at Nationals that year, but he certainly established himself as one of the top returners in 2016.
Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Kipkoech was runner-up again at Panorama Farms (behind Justyn Knight), placed 17th at Pre-Nats, and earned two runner up finishes at his conference and regional meets (BIG South & Southeast). His finish at Nationals was much more impressive than his 2015 showing with a 26th place finish.
Maybe it's because I like his racing style, but I do believe that Kipkoech is a top 10 runner. He was one of the very few individuals to qualify for both the 5k and 10k during the 2016 track season and has faced numerous top-level individuals throughout his career (including former teammate Amon Terer). With another year under his belt, expect Kipkoech to make another jump in his fitness and secure a few wins before season's end.
#9 Jonathan Green / Georgetown / Rs. Senior
It's easy to forget about Jonathan Green after a 2016 season that plagued him with an early season injury. That injury significantly delayed his training and only allowed him to race once at Paul Short where faltered to 42nd overall. Green was shut down for the rest of the season and kept on the sidelines until track season began.
His 2016 season may not have been pretty, but his 2015 season is one worth discussing. As a sophomore, Green had a breakout season where he progressively improved over time. He finished 3rd at Paul Short, 6th at Pre-Nats, runner-up at both his conference and regional championships (BIG East & Mid-Atlantic) and capped it all off with an incredible 5th place finish at Nationals. Jonathan Green was the real deal.
I'm a believer that fitness like Green's doesn't just go away after an injury. We saw the Georgetown star rebound during the winter and spring track seasons where he qualified for both indoor and outdoor Nationals, won the Penn Relays 10k, and earned a PR of 13:45 in the 5k. He was not only healthy, he was fit.
Yes, it is a bit concerning that an injury essentially caused him to miss the entire 2016 cross country season. However, I am very confident that Green will return to his 2015 form and wreck havoc among some of the best distance runners the nation has to offer.
#8 Dillon Maggard / Utah State / Senior
Throughout these rankings, I have mentioned plenty of individuals that I felt were "underrated". Yet, Dillon Maggard stands out as the most underrated when you look at the performances throughout his career. This is a guy who brings a little bit of everything to the table. He has noticeable improvement, great experience, impressive range, and strong personal bests in his three years of competition. What's not to like?
Maggard's first big race of the 2016 season came at Paul Short where he placed 5th overall behind the Iona duo of Kirui and Clements, Scott Carpenter, and D2 stud Sydney Gidabuday. Maggard would later build off of that performance with an 11th place finish at Pre-Nats and 4th place finish at the Mountain West Conference Championships.
As the postseason progressed, Maggard began to find his groove in the 10k races. He finished 8th in the Mountain Region Championships and came out of nowhere to shock the NCAA with a 12th place finish at Nationals.
Maggard will enter this season as the 5th best returner from last year's championships and be in a spot to finish among the top 10 at Nationals. Don't doubt that he can do it either. His fitness is only improving after a 13:41 5k this past spring. If he can lock down a few wins in 2017, expect him to work his way into the top 5 of our rankings.
#7 Colin Bennie / Syracuse / Senior
For the past two years, we have seen this rising Syracuse senior produce some outstanding races and times. Despite Justyn Knight garnering the attention of practically every media outlet, Bennie has still found a way to standout with impressive performances of his own. He is arguably just as important to Syracuse's success as Knight is.
Bennie's first breakout season came in 2015 where he won the Spiked Shoe Invite, placed 4th at Beantown, 6th at Wisconsin, 4th at ACC's, 2nd at the Northeast Regional Championships, and 8th at Nationals to become an All-American and help his team win the national title.
After such a year of grand success, his 2016 expectations were set very high. Still, Bennie kept up with the solid performances which included a 6th place finish at Panorama Farms, 14th place finish at Wisconsin, 5th place finish at ACC's, runner-up at the Northeast Regional Championships, and 17th place finish at Nationals.
Bennie's 2016 performances weren't quite as strong as what we saw in 2015, but there is no doubt that he is still one of the best runners in the NCAA. He has been incredibly consistent and reliable over the past two years without a "bad" race ever really occurring. I will certainly be looking to see if he can get back to his 2015 fitness, but as long as their is some general improvement, then he will almost definitely keep his spot in our top 10.
#6 Jerrell Mock / Colorado State / Rs. Senior
Coach Art Siemers has done a very good job of developing this Colorado State distance program over the past three or four years. Of course, that couldn't have been done without strong recruiting and the addition of guys like Jerrell Mock.
The past two cross country seasons have been very strong for Mock who thrived with (now graduated) teammate Jefferson Abbey by his side. 2015 was arguably his best year mainly because of the Mountain West Conference title win and a 19th place finish at NCAA's. That said, 2016 was just as strong after winning Roy Griak and earning runner-up finishes at the UW Invite as well as the Mountain West Conference Championships.
Unfortunately, his 2016 Nationals performance was not nearly as good as he finished 54th overall. It was one spot back from his 2014 finish of 53rd.
Despite some inconsistency, Mock still has a resume that others in this top 10 can't boast. He has a proven ability to win and a strong group of training partners around him (even with Jefferson Abbey gone).
While I am a fan of Mock, I am going to have to see some improvement in his 2017 performances if he wants to secure his spot in our top 10. An improved finish at Wisconsin (where he placed 29th in 2016) along with a better performance at Nationals would help his case quite a bit.
#5 Matthew Baxter / Northern Arizona / Rs. Senior
One of the most memorable moments of the 2016 NCAA Championships was seeing Matthew Baxter bolt to the front of the pack early in the race and take the lead. You had to commend the New Zealand native for his gutsy and bold decision during the biggest meet of the season with so much at stake.
Although Nationals may have been entertaining, Baxter did a lot during the regular season to catch my attention. After two early season rust-busters, Baxter would toe the line at Wisconsin and throw down a huge 8th place finish to comfortably give NAU the team win. Fast forward to BIG Sky's and the NAU dominance continued with Baxter placing 2nd overall in a team sweep.
Two weeks later were the Mountain Region Championships and the redshirt junior was expected to place among the top five. Unfortunately, an off day got the best of Baxter and he faltered to 22nd overall. Luckily, he would make up for that performance at Nationals where he jumped to the front pack, established a pace, and was rewarded with an 11th place finish.
There are plenty of meets that I consider when making these rankings, all with varying levels of importance. Naturally, Wisconsin and Nationals stand out as the most important and Baxter capitalized on both of those opportunities. His Mountain Region Championship performance wasn't great, but that is quickly forgotten when you have strong races at the two biggest meets of the season.
Baxter is one of four Northern Arizona men to earn a spot in our top 50 rankings (and for good reason). Like many of his teammates, I will be looking to see how much more he can improve and who he can defeat during the 2017 season. Expectations may be high, but if there is anyone capable of meeting those expectations, it's Baxter.
#4 Alex George / Arkansas / Senior
Alex George brings a sense of excitement to the SEC and South Central region. He has become one of the strongest distance runners in the nation and has the ability to take down nearly anyone he races. The England native hit a hot streak all throughout the 2016-2017 academic year and I don't see him cooling off any time soon.
The 2016 season was a big one for George who captured my attention early on. In his first meet at Beantown, George walked away with a win after comfortably defeating Julian Oakley of Providence. He would later go on to the Chile Pepper XC Festival where he placed 2nd overall (1st in D1) losing to only Vincent Kiprop. He would finish his regular season at Pre-Nats where he put together a very respectable performance and finished 14th overall.
The Razorbacks transitioned to the postseason and George continued his winning ways by securing the SEC title. He would later cruise to a very easy 5th place finish at the South Central Regional Championships and finish off his season in style with a 15th place finish at Nationals to earn his first All-American honors.
This is no "one season wonder" either. After a track season where he ran PR's of 3:42 and 13:40, I'm sold that George could place top five at NCAA's in November. His ability to win races is an encouraging sign and I like the fact that he's developed some speed as demonstrated by his track performances. If you're looking for a new name to enter the upper echelon of distance runners, Alex George might be your guy.
#3 Morgan McDonald / Wisconsin / Senior
For years, Wisconsin has produced top-tier individuals who have fought their way to the highest levels of the NCAA. First it was Maverick Darling and Mo Ahmed, then it was Michael VanVoorhis, followed by Malachy Schrobilgen, and now it's Morgan McDonald. McDonald has been an absolute tank for the Badgers over the past two or three years and he will most likely continue that streak of success in 2017.
After a 2015 season where he was the first man out of Nationals, McDonald came back for vengeance in 2016. The Aussie superstar had his first big challenge in his own backyard: the Wisconsin Invite. There, McDonald kept with the top group and stormed down the final straightaway to finish 3rd overall in what was a statement race for not only his season, but his career.
McDonald would later go on to take the BIG 10 title and finish runner-up in the Great Lakes region (behind teammate Malachy Schrobilgen). This time he would qualify for Nationals and he did not disappoint. The Wisconsin Badger hung tough with an elite group of front-runners and finished his season with a 7th place finish.
In case there was any doubt that McDonald was still fit during this past spring track season, he toed the line at the Portland Track Festival to race the 5000 and unleashed an incredible PR of 13:23. Don't be fooled. This is an individual who is capable of competing with Knight and Fisher...and even beating them. He has shown multiple instances of scary good closing speed and has been improving his base over time.
Future upset pick? It's not out of the question.
#2 Grant Fisher / Stanford / Junior
When was the last time an American won the NCAA XC title? You have to go back to 2011 when it was won by Chris Derrick...of Stanford. Grant Fisher is shaping up to be the next great American distance runner and we saw proof of that this past spring track season when he upset Justyn Knight in the 5000 meters to take NCAA gold. Could we see him take another gold this fall?
2015 was an introductory season for Fisher. As a freshman, he only raced twice: once at PAC 12's and once at Nationals. He finished that season with a 17th place finish at NCAA's in his first season of collegiate competition.
But 2016 was Fisher's first true breakout season. He would finish 4th at Wisconsin, runner-up at PAC 12's, ran a controlled effort at the West Regional Championships to finish 11th, and showed some incredible guts to place 5th at NCAA's.
What more can I say about Fisher that his performances haven't already shown us? With two more years of eligibility left, Fisher has the chance to establish himself as one of the greatest American collegiate distance runners of all-time. Of course, the biggest obstacle in his way will be the guy listed at #1...
#1 Justyn Knight / Syracuse / Senior
It's a conflicting feeling. I always want to root for the American, but I am also hoping that Knight will walk away with a NCAA gold by the end of his collegiate career. Luckily, he won't have the curse of racing Edward Cheserek throughout the entirety of his NCAA eligibility.
Justyn Knight has been dominant since day one. Even as a freshman, we saw this kid place 14th at Wisconsin. He further proved his legitimacy that year by running 3:39 and 13:34 on the track...it was clearly the start of something special.
In 2015, Knight was runner-up at Wisconsin and ACC's. He eventually went on to win the Northeast title before placing 4th at the NCAA Championships (all as a sophomore).
After such an incredible 2015 season, the expectations only got higher. Still, Knight refined the smallest aspects of his already impeccable fitness and began to find even more success. The Syracuse junior entered NCAA's undefeated with wins at Panorama Farms, Wisconsin, ACC's, and the Northeast Regional Championships.
So how would he fare at Nationals?
In what may go down as the greatest NCAA cross country race of all-time, Knight worked with Villanova's Patrick Tiernan to break Edward Cheserek. In just a few quick moments, Knight was running for the national title. No, he didn't win it all, but he did expose the human side of Cheserek and proved that his fitness was just as good as anyone he would ever face.
And so far, that's been true! Knight was the only one with a winning record against Cheserek* in the 2016-2017 academic year after running 13:17 at Payton Jordan to once again defeat Cheserek and become the 4th fastest collegiate 5k runner of all-time.
*Must have raced multiple times. Josh Kerr would not count.
Throughout all of this, you have to commend Knight for the way he handles himself. His poise and maturity, both on and off the track, is refreshing and something I personally admire.
But at the end of the day, his competitors don't care about how nice of a guy he seems to be. They don't care about his wins, his times, his experience, or his progression. The only thing they care about is how they can beat him and I feel confident that Knight is thinking the same thing.